As political maneuvering and bureaucratic administration drags on in Washington D.C., the Alliance for Driver Safety & Security is urging Congress to pass laws requiring hair follicle testing for transportation workers in safety sensitive jobs. The Alliance for Driver Safety and Security, also known as the Trucking Alliance, made its statement at a United Nations event that centered around Brazil’s efforts to improve professional transportation safety.
The Brazilian government boasts some of the strictest requirements in the world in relation to drug testing for professional drivers. In 2015, the Brazilian Transport Department implemented a controversial regulation to include a wider detection window of an applicant’s drug use. The regulation mandated hair follicle drug testing prior to an applicant receiving their professional driver’s license. Specifically, commercial drivers in Brazil must pass a hair follicle test before obtaining and upon renewal of their license.
By contrast, urinalysis is the only federally mandated type of drug testing for commercial drivers in the United States, and license holders are not subject to automatic testing upon renewal.
Since Brazil’s hair testing law took effect in 2016, more than 1 million Brazilian drivers have either failed the hair test
or refused to renew their license to avoid taking a drug test.
Lane Kidd, managing director of The Trucking Alliance, said the United States’ current policy for drug testing drivers is failing. At the UN event, Kidd cited data from J.B. Hunt Transport revealing that more than 1,200 applicants in 2017 tested positive for drugs on their pre-employment hair follicle test. However, 90% of those same applicants passed the federally mandated urinalysis.
“Clearly, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s pre-employment drug test protocols are missing most lifestyle drug users and opioid addicts, and that’s a national problem for our industry,” Kidd stated.
Samples for drug testing are collected using various methods to include blood, urine, oral fluid, hair follicle and fingernails. Urinalysis has been the method most commonly used by companies performing employee drug testing, and it is the method of collection mandated by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) for a person to obtain a commercial driver’s license.
About 3.5 million people drive commercial trucks in the United States,
according to the American Trucking Association.
Urinalysis is a relatively simple, low-cost and accurate method to detect drug use among those who are seeking employment in the trucking industry. It is also used as part of mandatory random drug testing and post-accident procedures. On the flip side, urine drug testing is known to be easily manipulated through the use of various adulterants, synthetic urine, or “clean” urine. It is imperative the specimen collector be well versed in identifying and handling such situations. Urine drug tests have a shorter window of detection, typically 1-3 days, with the exception of chronic THC use.
DOT regulated companies must adhere to specific drug testing procedures; however, many organizations take their testing a step further by using hair testing as a supplement to urine drug screens. While other methods detect drug use within a few hours to mere days of the drug screen, hair follicle testing offers a longer detection window. The standard hair test has a 90 day window of detection. Starting from the scalp, each half inch of hair is 30 days of use, and the standard collection method recommends 1 1/2 inches of head hair. If head hair is not available, body hair can be used. Hair follicle testing is a newer methodology when compared to urine drug testing, and is a tool to identify repeated, chronic or binge use over a period of time. Hair testing is also observed, with snips taken right from the person’s head or body, making it difficult to cheat or obscure the results of the test. The cost of a hair test is double the fee of a urine drug screen, depending on where the test is conducted and what lab is used for analysis.
In the past 12 years, J.B. Hunt Transport has refused to employ 5,060 job applicants
who failed a hair test after passing the urine drug screen.
While businesses want to weed out drug users, industry leaders and companies are mostly concerned about the sharp increase in opioid use among their employees. Industry leaders say they’ve seen a rise in positive opioid tests among workers in the past four to five years.
Dean Newell, vice president of Safety and Driver Training at a major trucking company, Maverick USA, also spoke at the UN event. He said Maverick has seen a steady rise in positive opioid tests since beginning a hair follicle testing program in 2014.
“We have an opioid problem in our nation and from my experience, we have one in our industry too,” Newell said.
Trucking company J.B. Hunt Transport released data showing that out of all the individuals
it tested who received a positive result, 46% had opioids in their system.
In response to the opioid crisis, on January 1, 2018, the Department of Transportation’s Drug Testing Program expanded its drug testing panel to include hydrocodone, hydromorphone, oxymorphone and oxycodone. However, testing for these drugs continues to be conducted through urinalysis.
Urinalysis is effective for detecting these drugs when they’ve been taken recently, but only hair follicle testing can look back at a person’s drug history. So while urinalysis helps to catch chronic users of opioids and other drugs, it may miss “lifestyle” or “recreational” users. This is another reason industry groups are pushing for federally mandated hair follicle testing for truck drivers and other safety-sensitive transportation workers.
For the past two years, the U.S. Congress has been waiting for the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to draft new legislation mandating the use of hair follicle testing for this large group of workers serving a critical role in our nation’s economy and infrastructure.
In May, the Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, headed by Chairman Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), unanimously approved a bill that would push DHHS to offer more frequent updates about its progress, along with an explanation for the delay.
There is also potential that Congress will consider a bill requiring DOT mandated truck drivers to pass a hair test before renewing their license. This is the current law in Brazil.
Revised rules in the United Stated could also include expanded testing for some rail employees, increasing costs for those companies. On the other hand, the changes could relieve costs for some companies who are performing duplicative urine and hair follicle testing. This is the current law in Brazil.
According to The Trucking Alliance, new legislation could be forthcoming in January 2019.
Newell added to his presentation at the U.N. by citing the trucking industry’s tremendous impact on the safety of those on the country’s roads. He said hair follicle testing “will save lives and hair testing is the right thing to do.”
Newell added, “we have a moral obligation to our employees, but we also have a moral obligation to the public.”